Modern Classic SLR Series
Canon A-1 - Other Issues Part IV

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Strangely, after more than twenty years, I can still notice there are a lot of Canon A-1 cameras in good operational conditions. There are many other minor designs and features that played an important role in making the A-1 a very reliable and dependable imaging tool. Earlier we mentioned the safety device for the AE Mode Selector/AT Dial to overcome possible wrong settings, there are other A-1 controls as well that were designed with the same purpose. Other than that, some of the features employed in its design were very considerate and functional in many ways to help a photographer to be more responsive and creative.

ASA DialTop.jpg
The Film Speed ISO Dial, for instance, is located around the film rewind knob, it also serves as the Exposure Compensation Dial, a space saving and trend setting design for other AE SLRs to follow.

And both devices have a lock that prevents you from moving them accidentally. The shutter release button also has a lock that is in the shape of a lever in front of the film advance lever. This isn't its only function, however, as sliding it below the red "L" mark will activate the self-timer either in 2 seconds or 10 seconds operation. With the camera in any AE mode, there are a few ways to get more or less exposure than the camera would give automatically. You can either use the Exposure Compensation Scale for a constant compensating value for a few exposures or more flexible way is to use the Memory Lock (or more commonly known as "AE Lock"). However, there is still a 'primitive' way to use the ISO film speed dial to 'fool' the camera's metering circuit.

If you think the exposure compensation dial suits you fine, it shouldn't be much of a problem to use it. First, to turn the scale, depress the adjacent Exposure Compensation Lock Button. Compensation is indicated by numbers that are factors or multipliers: 1 /4, 1 /2, 1, 2, 4.

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These settings give 2 steps under, 1 step under, no compensation, 1 step over or 2 steps over–in that order. The subdivisions on the scale are 1/3 steps increments. The Canon A-1 was the most advance AE camera available during that era that can fine tune exposure by 1/3 stop increments. In effect, this control corresponds and changes the film-speed setting. When you don't want exposure compensation, remember to return the control to 1. It's important to remember to do this because there is no signal in the viewfinder and all subsequent exposures will provide the user set compensation value.

And further multi-functionability is present in the Viewfinder Display Lever, in the center of which is the Battery Check Button, and the LED lamp on the right side of the shutter release button that serves as a battery check and self-timer indication.

ASA Dial.jpg
Arrangement of controls in this manner has made the A-1 compact in size and easy to operate, in fact, most automatic SLR cameras have almost the same arrangement on the top deck. So, you can also classified it as a trend setting feature by Canon.

The back of the A-1's film back has a memo holder. It can accept the end panel from the box of the film in use to act as a reminder. Prior to the introduction of auto DX film coding in the early '80, this is the only way that can help someone who always mixed different kind of film, working with a few bodies or experiencing different effect with various film type. However, if you change the regular film back to the Databack A, it will not have this feature.

Memo.jpg (7k)
It is a handy reference of the type of film you are using, or the location, or a given work, the film end tab, or a similar memo, can be inserted into it.

Introduced with the AE-1, it was very highly praised and became almost a standard feature for all SLR cameras that followed. Nowadays, it serves a different purpose as my friend, Philip Chong, has done - pasted an ID or passport-sized mugshot of his girlfriend onto it, which is much better than having it enclosed in the wallet. The earlier Canon AE-1 has an action grip designed for secure holding of the camera. The Canopn A-1 improved that by designing the battery chamber cover raised higher, offering a convenient grip. And if you should want an even better handle, the Action Grip can be screwed right over this cover.

One cannot denied the fact that the Canon A-1 is one of the most elegant looking SLR even by today's standard. It can be anytime rated as one of the classic SLR that posseses the best of human engineering in its design - whether it is just the body or with any of the added on accessories such as Power Winder or Motor Drive MA attached.

The standard screen uses a split-image surrounded by a microprism, surrounded by a matte field. The screen cannot be changed by the user but can be changed to another type by Canon factory service centers. Available screens are shown in the accompanying table.

Visually, these screens are similar to focusing screens that designed for the AE-1 PROGRAM that launched very much later in 1981. The focusing screens for both A-1 and AE- Program are identified with the same letter but the AE-1 Program screen is designed to be user interchangeable.

A : Standard microprism in matte/Fresnel field
B : Bi-prism in matte/Fresnel field
C : Matte/Fresnel field with matte-only circle in center
D : Similar to C except with rectangular grid
E : Bi-prism with microprism collar in matte/Fresnel field (standard screen used)
G : Microprism for smaller aperture lenses (up to f-5.6) in matte/Fresnel field
I : Cross-hair reticle in clear center spot surrounded by matte/Fresnel field

Note: You are encouraged to use the Focusing Screen section for the Canon AE-1 Program to see if any of those screen fits your personal requirement. Just use the alphabet for cross reference. A kind reminder here again: The focusing screen for the A-1 is not user interchangeable, it has to be factory fit or handle by an experienced technician.

Located just above the exposure preview switch, it stores the exact exposure value in the micro-computer system. It can be used for manual exposure compensation among other things. Exposure preview is possible immediately after pressing the switch. Point the camera at the surface on which you want to set exposure. Depress and hold it in will 'locked' the mter reading. Obviously, it works in all the AE modes, this control actually holds the Exposure Value.

The LED signal beside the self-timer lever keeps you informed of what is going to take place and when. It blinks at a certain speed when set for 10 seconds and blinks faster when there are only 2 seconds left before shutter release so that you may be able to know the exact instant of exposure. Note: In case of emergency, if self-timer cycle is in progress, you can cancel self timer operation in two ways: either move the Main Switch to "L" or depress the Battery Check Button.

Only one unit of 6V silver oxide or alkaline manganese battery is required to power the A-1's entire electronics. One of the great advantages of the circuitry employed is that a new battery will last for one year under normal use.

If the AE-l's finger-grip support was considered a landmark of functionality, the A-l's large action grip provides an even better, steadier hold to afford perfect one-hand portability. Besides, it is detatchable.

The AT dial, is the command center for setting the AE mode, except stopped-down metering AE and flash AE. By means of a sliding switch, the dial guard can be applied to prevent unintentional movement or recede for easy fingertip setting.


Depth of Field Preview

For any AE mode except Stopped-Down AE: After advancing film, turn on the meter. Notice the aperture size indicated in the display. Take the lens off A and set to the indicated aperture size.


Depress the Depth-of-Field Lever on the camera body. The viewfinder image will darken if you have selected an aperture smaller than wide open. You will see depth of field at the selected aperture.

If depth of field is too much or too little, change aperture size until you see what you want and notice the aperture selected on the lens.Release the Depth-of-Field Lever so it moves back out. Return the lens to A. After you return the lens to A, the shutter button and Film-Advance Lever are both locked. When you turn on the meter again, the display reads  .

Move the Film-Advance Lever fully against the camera body. Push the Multiple Exposure Lever to the left. Then move the Film. Advance Lever through one full stroke. This does not advance the film but it resets the lens and camera mechanism to operate automatically once again - This returns operation to whatever AE mode you had selected before viewing depth of field. If you changed lens aperture to get the depth of field you want, then you must use that aperture to make the exposure. If the camera is on programmed AE, switch it to aperture priority and set the aperture. If the camera is on shutter priority, change shutter speed until the display shows the aperture, or switch to aperture priority

For Stopped-Down AE: You see depth of field constantly because lens aperture is controlled manually and takes the value you set on the aperture ring.
For Manual Override: If you push in the Depth-of-Field Lever, the camera is switched to Stopped Down AE and you see depth of field at whatever aperture you have selected. You can make the exposure with the lens stopped down if you wish. If you prefer to return to Manual Override before making the exposure, just release the Stop-Down Lever so it moves out to its normal position.


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